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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Resisting Evil

Aug 26, 2014

With daily reports of Muslim massacres, atrocities and acts of unthinkable evil, many Christians are concerned, but also confused, as to what our response to all this should be. Every day we see more barbaric beheadings, more suicide bombings and more acts of jihad.

The Islamic State (IS) is now leading the way here, but plenty of other Islamic groups can be mentioned. And as I have often noted, this is not extreme Islam in action – this is simply Islam in action. This is a political ideology and death cult bent on world domination – always has been, always will be.

But what are Christians to think of all this? This is certainly evil of the highest order, but how should such evil be resisted? Or are we even to think in terms of resisting evil? Some believers in the pacifist camp think that we can never directly resist evil, at least by use of force.

iraq 7Even if a Christian is not a pacifist, he may be rather confused about what a right response might be. As an example, elsewhere a Christian shared one of my posts about Muslim children being given dolls and knives, so they can practice the fine art of beheading the infidel. (BTW, there is of course full Koranic justification for this practice. See sura 5:33, 8:12, and 47:4 for starters.)

This person reposted my picture of this, but then started getting flak for it, so he then moved into a defensive position: “How do you fight evil, the so called war on terror. For it is written that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

With many Christians confused about our role in resisting evil, this person, like many, appealed to a passage such as Ephesians 6:12 above, to highlight the spiritual nature of our battles. But is this all the Bible has to say about resisting evil? Is this the only response open for Christians?

No, not at all. What so many Christians do not realise is that God had ordained various institutions which we are to participate in, and which are meant to be utilised. He of course established the church for his people. But he also created the institution of the state to render justice and punish evil in a fallen world.

While there may be overlap at times between these two institutions, they are nonetheless separate entities, each with its own roles and responsibilities. For example, generally speaking, the church deals with sin and forgiveness, while the state deals with crime and punishment.

So in that sense the First Baptist Church on Main Street is not to engage in physical warfare, nor start fighting IS overseas. The state is allocated that job. It preserves the peace at home, and can at times promote justice overseas, as in just warfare, which is meant to check aggression and protect the innocent.

So the state most certainly has a role to play in dealing with evil, both domestic and international. The Pope recently reiterated standard church teaching on just war thought when he said that the use of force is justified here:

In a question-and-answer session with reporters returning with him from a five-day trip to South Korea, Francis was asked if he supported the U.S. air strikes authorized by Obama against ISIS. “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Francis said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” However, the Pope went on to say that such intervention should not be decided unilaterally, by one country.

So there is no moral problem at all for Christians to support the use of force by the state to resist evil at times. It was certainly the ethically correct thing to do when we sought to resist the evil of Hitler and the Nazis, and it may well be the right thing to do in order to stop IS.

Thus there is no need for Christians to fall back into a quasi-spiritual or quasi-pacifist position here, when other Christians get squeamish about such things. The case for just war theory has of course been argued for at least two and a half millennia, and cannot here be recounted.

But biblical Christians certainly do not oppose the use of all force, nor do they oppose all killing. Some killing is morally licit, as I argue in more detail elsewhere: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/11/is-it-ever-right-to-kill/

And there is even the place for self-defence, as I argue here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/12/20/self-defence-and-scripture/

Thus while Baptists from Ohio or Perth may not take the law into their own hands, I think a valid case can be made for persecuted Christians living in Iraq or Syria or Nigeria to defend themselves, and to even take up arms to do so. And for those who might appeal to the words of Jesus about “turning the other cheek,” I have addressed those concerns elsewhere as well: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/20/difficult-bible-passages-matthew-539/

While Christians can and do disagree on some of these matters, the great bulk of Christians throughout the last 2000 years have supported the concept of just war and have recognised the legitimate role of the state to resist evil. With evil in the form of IS taking on monstrous proportions, now is not the time to cave into moral and mental mushiness about this.

If an individual believer wants to be pacifist, that is fine, but he dare not criticise those who believe we have a moral and a biblical obligation to protect the innocent and see to it that a modicum of justice in a sinful world is maintained. For more on this general issue, see here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/07/14/muddled-thinking-on-war-peace-and-justice/

The horrific persecution of Christians taking place right now at the hands of IS and other Islamic groups is at the very least something which all of us should be praying about. And yes of course, spiritual warfare is necessary here, as this is at root a spiritual conflict.

But it is also a very real battle being fought in a very real world, and the use of force in resisting evil has its place – even in the Christian worldview.

www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pope-supports-force-islamic-extremists-article-1.1907547

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11 Responses to Resisting Evil

  • One thing the the non-Islamic world refuses to realise is that one of the main reasons for the upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism is what they ( the Muslim) see as the moral decadence of the West. The slide into moral decay, abortion, pornography, sexual perversion and lust are all looked on in disgust by the Islamic extremist. Often is it preached on by fire-brand Imams. Muslims arounf the world are being emboldened by their “brothers” in ISIS/L/IS and are now starting to call for IS’s globally.
    Here’s an exhortation from the Norwegian brotherhood.
    “We do not want to be a part of Norwegian society. And we do not consider it necessary either to move away from Norway, because we were born and grew up here. And Allah’s earth belongs to everybody.
    But let Greenland become ours. Bar this city quarter and let us control it the way we wish to do it. This is the best for both parts.
    We do not wish to live together with dirty beasts like you.”
    Because of the unwillingness of our governments to resist the “progressives” and their atheistic agenda, we open ourselves up to attack. The morally corrupt government is morally weak and morally weak are physically weak.

  • Fantastic article and I wholeheartedly agree. As someone who choses to deal with Biblical topics which are not PC today, I not only have to deal with ‘never been saved’ Christophobes, but also have to deal with those who have left the faith and are sorely convicted, being also filled with hatred because we caught them out in sin and corrected them for it.

    These spin lie after lie about us that any nutcase can choose to think they do God service and attempt to harm us for. We have and continue to hire security and do threat assessment meetings to be scheduled into our Ministry plans.

    All part of standing up for the truth, no complaints…and certainly no backing down.

  • May I presume to observe that when you quote Pope Francis restating the traditional Christian understanding of the right to self-defence in a present -day situation, you are seeing the Bishop of Rome in his correct role as acknowledged Spokesman of the Christian Community, just as, in Apostolic times, St. Peter was clearly the leader and spokesman of the 12 Apostles whom Jesus Christ himself personally selected (cf. Acts of the Apostles). It is in this sense that Catholicism designates the Pope as being the particular “Successor of St Peter” each in his own specific era of the entire history of the Church….

    Yet, as regards the “just war ” theory itself, here the Pope nuances its particular application to the ISIS situation, whilst other Christians also point-out the real danger of the inevitable escalation of modern warfare into hugely unmanageable and (perhaps) essentially unjustifiable proportions, as with much chemical warfare and most nuclear warfare…

  • Thanks Neil. No, I simply quote Jorge Mario Bergoglio in recognising that the use of force is morally valid – nothing more. And having once begun a PhD on just war theory, I happen to know a little bit about it, and plenty of Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, still defend its validity today, most recently Oxford theology professor Nigel Biggar in his In Defence of War.

  • Neil,
    If you want to push the claims of the papacy Bill’s site is not a forum for such apologetics.
    I need only point out that many parts of Christendom reject those claims, and not only Protestants, but Eastern Christians – some of whom have been much in the news of late (i.e. the Assyrian Christians) – also reject the claims of the papacy.
    So let’s just stick to the moral issues on this forum.

  • Yes, anyone who knows me or this site realises that I strongly discourage such sectarianism. While I am an unapologetic evangelical Protestant, I don’t allow Protestants to have a go at Catholics, and I don’t allow Catholics to have a go at Protestants here. There are plenty of other places where that can be done. Here I seek to work together with anyone concerned about the many very real threats we face on so many fronts. So hopefully Christians of all stripes can show me some grace here and respect my wishes thanks.

  • I have only just realized a way that ordinary Christians, but also others who are concerned about the inroads Islam is making into our society that there is something very practical we can do to reduce at least the flow of funds that are currently financing aggressive activity in the name of Islam.
    halalchoices is a web site that explains the stealth jizya tax our Australian companies are already manipulated into paying by so called halal certification. This will be difficult if carried out to the degree where it begins to make an impact, it will hurt our back pocket, but I for one know that the Living God is my provider, not the government or those who offer me specials. It is nothing much in itself, but with prayer and God’s direction could be an arrow in our arsenal of God-given weapons.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • As a Christian, I believe in tolerance and prayer for our enemies and for those of other faiths. However, I also believe that what we see as tolerance, extremists will always see as a weakness to be exploited.
    The reports of jihad and genocide that we are currently seeing are appalling and as Christians I believe we should be doing all we can to influence our governments to act to stop these terrible atrocities. There is always a reluctance to commit to military action (and rightly so) but sometimes this is the only course of action left to protect the innocent. Putting our soldiers in harm’s way may not be a popular move, but what else do we have an army for?

  • Hi Bill
    I consider that unfortunately Murray R Adamthwaite’s comments above have somewhat unduly deflected the real point at issue here by considering my muse about the words of Jorge Mario Bergoglio concerning the “Just War” rationale for the use of force in self-defence in an highly polemical sense.
    Rather, my point here is actually that notwithstanding the fact that many a prominent Christian (whether the Pope, or Bill !) may well defend the “Just War Theory”, the theory’s inherent aspect of “proportionality” must also always be acknowledged.
    Thus I repeat my real point here: that nevertheless “other Christians also point-out the real danger of the inevitable escalation of modern warfare into hugely unmanageable and (perhaps) essentially unjustifiable proportions, as with much chemical warfare and most nuclear warfare…”

  • Thanks Neil. It of course does not really bother me if you are dismissive of me and/or the Pope. What I do care about is that people have thought through carefully this debate, and are up on the relevant literature. The truth is, we not only have 2500 years of debate and discussion on this, but also 70 years of intense discussion and reflection since the atomic bomb was introduced into the mix. There is an entire library that has been penned since the mid-1940s, looking at claims that just war theory is now obsolete, and so on. Indeed, there were many making this case, including the US Bishops during the height of the Cold War. They claimed that the nuclear age rendered just war thinking inoperable or redundant. Many capable minds – both Christian and non-Christian – amply dealt with these faulty claims. Just one you should be aware of is the important volume by Catholic social thinker Michael Novak: Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age (1983).

    And you may not be up on modern military and contemporary warfare developments either. With things like precision-guided munitions, smart bombs, and laser-guided warheads, we now have missiles which can go straight down a chimney or vent of a building. Thus modern weaponry has actually increased our ability to meet the criteria of proportionality in many respects unlike ever before.

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